Métropole Télévision History
92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine, Cedex
Telephone: (+33) 1 41 92 66 66
Fax: (+33) 1 41 92 66 10
Sales: FFr 4.1 billion ($680 million) (1999)
Stock Exchanges: Paris
NAIC: 513120 Television Broadcasting Networks; 512110 Television Show Production
- M6 television station begins broadcasting.
- Potential viewing audience reaches 18 million households.
- Company is listed on Paris Stock Exchange.
- Company purchases interest in Télévision Par Satellite (TPS).
- Home Shopping Service and Fun TV stations are launched.
- Share of national audience tops 13.5 percent.
Métropole Télévision is one of France's leading television broadcasters and programming producers. Métropole Télévision's flagship station is the M6 television channel, which, in 1998, captured 14.1 percent of the total French television viewing audience, and more than 19 percent of the viewing audience under the age of 50, ranking the station number two behind TF1 (Télévision Françse 1). Métropole Télévision holds a joint-venture participation in the Télévision Par Satellite (TPS) television service, adding channels 'Série Club,' 'Téva,' 'M6 Music,' and 'Fun TV' to TPS and to certain cable television networks. The company's other television production interests include its Home Shopping Service, which provides programming, including 'Club Télé Achat,' to M6 and Téva, as well as other French satellite and cable channels and to television stations in Belgium, China, and Canada. Beyond television, Métropole Télévision has placed the M6 name on a successful line of magazines, videos, and compact discs. Through subsidiaries M6 Films and Métropole Productions, the company produces and coproduces films and programs for the cinema and television markets. Advertising sales for the M6 station remain the company's chief source of revenue, topping FFr 4 billion in 1999. Métropole Télévision continues to be led by founder and CEO Jean Drucker.
'Little Station That Could' in the 1980s
Until the early 1980s, France's television broadcasting networks remained under the tight control of the French government, which restricted the number of available stations to just three: TF1, which was privatized in 1987, and the government-owned Antenne 2 and Antenne 3. The appearance of privately owned television stations marked something of a revolution for the French television viewer. The first of the new breed of channels was Canal Plus, a subscription-based service requiring a set-top decoder, which began broadcasting in 1984. Canal Plus was soon followed by La Cinq, broadcasting on France's channel five. Plans for a sixth channel, TV6, to be operated by radio programmer NRJ and advertising agency Publicis, foundered by mid-decade.
In 1987, however, a new station joined France's airwaves. Called M6, the station quickly became known as the French version of the 'Little Engine That Could.' Starting on a budget of just FFr 500 million per year--which represented only one-fourth of the budget for La Cinq--M6 definitely faced an uphill battle. As CEO and founder Jean Drucker told Le Point, 'We didn't start from zero. We started from less than zero.' One of the station's largest hurdles was that its broadcast network remained severely limited, with reception assured in less than one-third of France, in part because of government reluctance to allow the station to expand its network of transmitters nationwide. Industry analysts were also skeptical that the French market could support a sixth television channel. Métropole Télévision's first year's balance sheet seemed to bear out the skeptics, as the company posted losses mounting to FFr 380 million.
Yet Drucker, who had previously served as president of Antenne 2 (later renamed France 2), not only had extensive experience in television, but also the deep pockets of financial backers Lyonnaise des Eaux and CLT (Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Télédiffusion, later CLT-UFA), which each held 25 percent of Métropole Télévision. Drucker put his broadcasting experience to good use, focusing on establishing a strong identity for the new station. The company developed the M6 logo, and a 'look' for the station that set it apart from its competitors. Standing apart was also extended to M6's broadcast schedule as well. In a country where the eight o'clock news broadcast was known as the 'high mass,' M6 dared to be different, offering an array of counter-programming initiatives that increasingly brought it to the attention of France's television viewers, in particular the younger viewing markets.
M6's counter-programming took on various forms, including broadcasting television series--chiefly American-made--during the traditional news time, as well as a CNN-inspired six-minute newscast presented in the time slot just before 8 p.m., when all of the other stations were still broadcasting commercials. M6's choice of programming often placed the company in difficulties with the CSA (the French television authority) and requirements that stations devote certain percentages of their broadcast time to French- and European-produced programming. American shows such as 'Cagney and Lacey' and 'The Cosby Show' gave M6 an increasing share of the French viewing public. M6 also developed its appeal with the youth market, devoting much of its broadcasting time to music videos.
Despite a strong showing in its urban markets, where the channel pulled in as much as 15 percent of the viewing audience, M6 remained the smallest kid on the block. With just two percent of the national audience--in a system that largely lacked local advertising--M6 remained far from its break-even point of ten percent. This situation began to change early in 1988, when the extension of the company's transmitter network allowed it to triple the number of television households it could reach. By then, with 'zappers' (i.e., remote controls) in hand, more and more television viewers were tuning into M6.
Diversifying in the 1990s
By 1991, M6 had captured a nine percent share of France's viewing public. Although the station continued to rely heavily on music videos and U.S.-imported shows, Métropole Télévision had begun to show its own programming muscle. M6-produced programs included 'Capital,' a highly respected news magazine with an emphasis on corporate and financial matters, and 'Culture Pub,' a program devoted to advertising around the world, both of which began to make a mark on the French television scene. Nevertheless, the company continued to face industry criticism for its lack of French- and European-made television programming, especially from France's producer's guild, but also from many political leaders who did little to hide their interest in seeing M6 disappear altogether.
Similar pressures, and viewer disinterest, led to the demise of La Cinq by 1992, suggesting that the country indeed was not ready for six television stations. But M6's fortunes continued to rise, gaining points not only from the closing of La Cinq (which was later replaced by station Arte, a co-French-German broadcaster oriented toward cultural programming), but also from France's Big Three--TF1, France 2, and France 3. As the company neared the ten percent break-even point, it was also moving from net losses toward net profits. By 1991, with revenues of FFr 800 million, the company had cut its losses back to just FFr 140 million. Nevertheless, with the end of La Cinq, many in the industry began sounding the death knells for M6, with its total of FFr 1.4 billion in losses during its first five years of business. Métropole Télévision turned to its two largest shareholders for continued financing; in turn, Lyonnaise des Eaux and CLT both increased their shares to 34 percent.
The year 1992 proved to be M6's turning point. With its share of the television viewing audience topping ten percent for the first time, M6 became profitable, posting net profits of FFr 100 million for the year. The company's fortunes continued to rise. By 1993, as its national share of 12 percent gave it a growing percentage of the nation's total advertising expenditures--reaching 14.9 percent that year--net profits topped FFr 230 million on revenues of FFr 1.8 billion. In 1994, Métropole Télévision was ready to go public, posting just nine percent of its shares on the Paris Stock Exchange. Priced at FFr 260 per share, the listing was over-subscribed some 38 times, making it one of the year's most successful IPOs.
Métropole Télévision invested its new capital in diverse activities. The rollout of satellite television, under preparation in the mid-1990s, and the extension of cable television offered the company new programming perspectives. New channels proposed by the company included Téva, a channel featuring programming for the women's market; M6 Music, taking over the company's music video programming as M6 itself turned more and more toward programming fiction and news and entertainment magazines; and Série Club, devoted to broadcasting French and U.S.-made series. Métropole Télévision also bought into the TPS satellite network; the company's participation, together with the strong share positions of CLT and Lyonnaise, gave Métropole Télévision a leading role in TPS's operations.
By 1995, Métropole Télévision had succeeded in shedding its debts. The company continued to post steady gains in profits, despite its share of the loss-making TPS network, only slowly beginning to gain momentum. In 1996, M6 faced once again the ire of the CSA. Where M6 had enjoyed the regulatory body's lenience toward the station's disregard of its programming quotas, the company's success now forced it to toe the line, especially during the 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slot. The tightening of its requirements led the company to increase its own production investments. By 1998, Métropole's own productions were helping to drive the company's success, forming the majority of its top audience-generating programs.
The company's satellite television investments began to pay off in the late 1990s as well. Growing public interest in satellite broadcasting, spurred by sharp drops in the prices for satellite dish receivers and decoders, placed TPS as one of the leaders, alongside CanalSatellite, for the French market. After increasing its own participation in TPS to 25 percent, Métropole Télévision quickly made plans to create more new channels, including Fun TV, oriented toward the youth market, and the Home Shopping Service.
Métropole Télévision was also making advances on other entertainment fronts. The company's M6 Interactions subsidiary made strong inroads with its magazines, video and compact disc, and software products. Métropole Télévision also joined the big screen, providing production and financing for a number of cinema projects, including 'Quasimodo' and 'Peut-être,' among others. The company also began preparations for two new television channels, to be launched after the turn of the century, M6 Famille, devoted to family programming, and TV.com, featuring multimedia and computer-oriented programming. On the multimedia front, Métropole Télévision created a new subsidiary, M6 Web, grouped under its M6 Interactions subsidiary, to govern its Internet and multimedia activities. The growing importance of its multimedia activities was highlighted by M6 Interactions' growing share of the company's annual revenues: some 30 percent of 1998's FFr 3.5 billion.
In 1999, Métropole Télévision extended itself into a new arena--that of the sports arena. In May of that year, the company joined shareholder CLT-UFA in the purchase of the Girondins soccer club of Bordeaux. The purchase not only gave the company an entry into the sports market, it also gave it the possibility to include live sports broadcasting on its stations for the first time.
Métropole Télévision entered the new century with the announcement that it had gained the second place position among France's general-programming stations, with a 13.6 percent share nationwide. The 'little station that could' had certainly proved that it could--and most likely would continue to&mdashsert itself as a leader in the French television market.
Principal Subsidiaries: M6 Publicité SA; M6 Interactions SA; Home Shopping Service SA; Tecipress SA; M6 Droits Audiovisuels SA; TCM Droits Audiovisuels SA; TCM Gestion SA; M6 Films SA; Métropole Productions SA; C. Productions SA; Métropolest SA; M6 Thématique SA; Extension TV SA; Paris Première SA; Sedi TV SNC; Edi TV SA; Fun TV SNC; Club Téléhat SNC; M6 Numérique SNC; TPS SNC (25%).
Principal Competitors: Canal +; France Télévision; TF1; CanalSatellite; NC Numericable; France Telecom Group.
- Aubert, Philippe, 'Une télé pas comme les autres,' Le Point, January 4, 1988, pp. 74-75.
- Equirou, Marine, 'Jean Drucker: M6 réalisera en 98 un bénéfice au moins égal à celui de 97,' Les Echos, September 10, 1998, p. 24.
- Feraud, Jean-Christophe, 'M6 brigue le deuxième rang des chaines généralistes,' Les Echos, September 3, 1999, p. 16.
- 'M6 to Be Bound by Broadcast Quotas,' Tech Europe, January 9, 1996.
- Short, David, 'Small Networks Reap Big Rewards,' European, October 7, 1994, p. 25.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 33. St. James Press, 2000.